Never So Few, a 1959 war film set in the jungles of Burma, starred Frank Sinatra (Captain
Tom Reynolds) and Gina Lollobrigida (Carla) with Peter Lawford, Paul Henreid
and Steve McQueen in one of his earliest screen roles.
The Main Title sets the scene immediately. Jungle rhythms and Thai scales over a
churning bass ostinato create a sense of urgency and danger. Such brooding,
menacing material - sometimes with heroic snare drum beating, to stiffen resolve
- stalks the scenes of combat.
But much of the score is lushly romantic. For Carla, Friedhofer creates an exotic
alluring theme heard in a number of variations e.g. – as a light dance number
in a nightclub, in jazz blues treatment, and as a lush romantic statement in
the Steiner tradition. From ‘Carla’ this effulgence spills over into the romanticism
of ‘Conservatory’ and ‘Like Wow!’.
One of the highlights of Friedhofer’s creation is the brilliantly coloured ‘Morning
Ride’ evoking the gorgeous Thai scenery, featuring shimmering brass and strings
over repeated cells for pitched percussion (emulating a gamelan band). ‘Over
the Border’ is another colourful landscape, although its beauty is counterbalanced
by a sense of omnipresent danger.
Of the source music, ‘Kachin Koncerto’ is the most striking. It is another memorable
piece of exotica. Charles Wolcott composed and conducted what is really three
overlaid recordings: a six-member gamelan band, maracas and jingles, and a gong.
The piece stops short as the Japanese launch a sneak attack. Other source music
is comprised of popular standards such as Cole Porter’s ‘Easy to Love’.
7 Women (1966) was John Ford’s last film and his one and only collaboration with
Elmer Bernstein. It told the story of a group of female missionaries threatened
by Mongols in 1935 China. It starred Margaret Leighton, Anne Bancroft, Flora
Robson, Eddie Albert, Sue Lyon and Betty Field.
Bernstein’s 7 Women score kicks off with his trademark syncopated rhythms in his
fast-moving hard-hitting western style. Only a few broad exotic strokes divide
the Main Title from the world of The Magnificent Seven. In fact the music
underscores the opening sequence of Mongol warriors on horseback.
It is interesting to compare this music with Jerry Goldsmith's, much better-known
1966 oriental The Sand Pebbles score. Equally strong, assured
character studies and exotic scene painting, go hand-in-hand in this 7 Women
music. Bernstein’s music is basically gently feminine, caring and compassionate
but quirky in its description of the women’s foibles. ‘Lady Strange Love’ where
Miss Andrews (Margaret Leighton) interrupts Mr Pether’s (Eddie Albert) teaching
class has brittle, prim harpsichord alternating with pert tender child-like
woodwind phrases. (This combination will be a dominant factor in the score.)
Later, fluttering, somewhat remote woodwind and harp figures suggest the repressed
side of Andrews’s personality and her lesbian leanings. ‘Baby Blues’ – melancholy
jazz blues mixed with light oriental percussion underscores talk of an unborn
Contrastingly warlike and disruptive material is heard in cues like ‘Of Tunga Khan’. Based
on pentatonic Chinese music, it is a heavy and ominous theme for the Mongolian
warlord that develops into a brutal stately procession. Powerful, urgent staccato
rhythms and pounding percussion signal the onset of ‘Plague’ with material reminiscent
of Jerome Morros’s The Big Country music. Brutal, percussive piano and
crushing oriental rhythms pervade ‘Madness’ and the score ends in resignation
and despair as Cartwright (anne Bancroft) gives herself to the Mongol chief
then poisons him, and herself.
Two powerful, colourful oriental scores. Friedhofer’s contrasts evocative music
for the jungle locale, and warfare, with alluring sensual romantic music. Bernstein’s
score has more unusual downbeat music for Ford’s study of seven very different
missionary women threatened by barbaric Mongol warriors.
Never So Few: 4
7 Women: 3